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“His whole life was dominated by fear”

From Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart:

Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his children. Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.

Things Fall Apart has been on my bedside table for more than a month, but I am usually so exhausted by bedtime that I don’t even bother to pick it up. I like it, although, so far, there is a lot of transparently drawn-out translation and explication that could be presented more naturally if, say, an Ibo expression could just be set down as an accepted truth rather than as an accepted truth that also needs to be narrated to non-Ibo readers. It’s a minor annoyance, and I suspect that the more I read, the less I will notice it.

I bring up this passage simply because I like its matter-of-fact point that fear can be a primary motivator in a person’s life. I consider it a character flaw—though not a particularly shameful one, for there are much worse vices to capitulate to—when those who act on such fears refuse to admit that truth about themselves.

By the way, Tim Dickinson has a lengthy takedown of John McCain’s maverickyness in Rolling Stone. If you would like to associate Okonkwo with McCain, who am I to stop you?



“…Lyndon Johnson also had a recurring dream about Vietnam. If he ever wavered on the war, if he faltered, if he lost, ‘there would be Robert Kennedy out in front leading the fight against me, telling everyone that I had betrayed John Kennedy’s commitment to South Vietnam. That I was a coward. An unmanly man. A man without a spine. Oh, I could see it coming, all right. Every night when I fell asleep I would see myself tied to the ground in the middle of a long, open space. In the distance I could hear the voices of thousands of people. They were all shouting and running toward me: ‘Coward! Traitor! Weakling!’”

That’s from Legacy of Ashes, an entertaining and enraging history of the CIA I’ve been reading this weekend.

i look forward to reading your assessment of okonkwo/mcpain when you finish the book.

At my current rate of reading and posting, you can expect it around inauguration day.